I am not, nor have I ever been a New Year’s Resolution person. Of course, every year I make an excuse to eat and drink more and call it a resolution, but this year is different. You see, at about the same time one would make a resolution, I realized how many comedians in the city I’ve never met (or at least never had an in-depth conversation with). So here, in front of you all, I state my 2012 resolution: to have coffee with comedians and get to know them better. I love coffee, and comedians, and forging friendships. Some comedians I will meet for the 1st time, and some I’ll know to say hello to and get to know them better.
My first cup of coffee (not ever…just for this project) was with Philly’s Phunniest 2011 Winner Tommy Pope. I had seen Tommy in video and on stage numerous times, but had never met him until now. We are both from good old Delco, so this interview may include a lot of “dudes”, “mans”, and “yous guys”es. Yous guys have been warned.
Aubrie: You’ve been doing comedy for awhile now, do you or did you ever have pre-show rituals?
Tommy: I remember someone telling me-I started around four years ago- and someone noted that I had all of my jokes written out. So the way my process works is I’ll bullet point some ideas in a notebook or my phone or I’ll voice record it the way it comes out naturally in the car or onstage and then I’ll put it on paper. So my pre show ritual is to blindly look at the words- if it’s a big show like Helium or something I think I’m trying to regurgitate information but it never really sinks in. So I guess it’s like nervously reading jokes that I’m not actually reading. Actually, Hesky had a good point to that- right before when Helium plays that terrible music, that sadistic jingle- I kinda black out right before I go onstage. And I always look at my set-list, and he pointed out the same exact thing- that you keep just looking at the words but you’re not reading them and nothing’s hitting. You just keep thinking about walking onstage and getting hit with the lights.
Aubrie: So it’s the same for all comedians then. I often have a moment where I forget all lines backstage, but once I step on, they come right back to me.
Tommy: Yeah, it should be.
Aubrie: So, BirdText- how long has that been going on? Because I’ve heard your name and seen your videos for awhile now.
Tommy: Luke Cunningham and I started a show about three years ago where we used to tour Delco actually and it was called Philly Pub Crawl. We went around to all the popular Delco spots because at that time I didn’t really know anyone in Philadelphia- I was getting on Helium once every three or six months so I wasn’t really entrenched in the comedy community, so the best venue option was to go towards home where you know people would show up for shows. Luke would invite some great New york comedians to come down cause he had been in New York for five years and I would bring some people in from Philly, and that went on for two years. And then I met John McKeever at the Raven Lounge’s open mic a little over a year and half ago. From there we joined forces and changed it to BirdText because Luke went back to LA and New York to do some cool stuff like writing for Norm Macdonald, and John and I took the reins with setting up some shows around here. Luke would still help us from wherever he was at the time. So it’s been about a year and half for BirdText. Now we have Darryl- he’s been in it for the past three months. He was a really good friend of ours and he started out at Helium the same time as I did, and he was great at acting and helping us out with a lot of our videos, so it was just natural fit. We’re going to kick him out next week so this is the last BirdText interview before he’s done.
Aubrie: His head is getting too big for him after all of those WitOut award wins.
(Hey, guess what yous guys!! Darryl isn’t kicked out, those were just some JOKES!! Hahaha.)
Aubrie: So how did you guys come up with the name BirdText?
Tommy: So once we decided we were gonna rebrand our “Philly Pub Crawl”, we liked that there were a lot of popular shows with two uncommon names that are just memorable and something that stands out- simple terms that I always liked and admired. We wanted to come up with something that really didn’t matter and didn’t have too much connotation to comedy or anything specific to Philadelphia or New York so it’s pretty universal and people will remember it. So, John and I do a lot of g-chats at 3 or 4 in the morning. He texted me and he has that magnum condom joke, and he said, “If I had a magnum condom on I’d have to put my cell phone in with it so that it would fit better.” And in response I said, “Yeah, but your dick would still be texting me.” And his response was, “That’s it. BirdText.” I think it was a day or two after we said it were gonna change our name that we came up with that. And now there’s a connection now with the name and our videos and our faces, and it’s working. And it’s only been a year and a half or so since we came up with that.
Aubrie: Impressive! And speaking of impressive, I wondered if any of you studied film? Your videos are great.
Tommy: No, I went to Drexel and studied IT and engineering. But me and John have very similar tastes and we just mesh. It just works, so when it comes down to the shoot day, I’d say 85% of our work is improv. We’ll see angles and then it’s almost like we speak words without saying them- we just know. And we have the same appeal of the shooting style. Sometimes when you don’t have an education in it you just create a style that works for you. I don’t want to compare it to scumbags in sales- and I know this cause I worked with a lot of them and probably was one at some point- you know, when they hired you for a new position they didn’t really care about that cause they would have to untrain you and then retrain you the way they thought was the necessary way to sell. So we came in crisp and uneducated and do it our own way. That’s also why I like stand-up- like, I never knew forms of stand-up existed til after college. I never knew about comedy clubs and all of that stuff. But you can’t mock or emulate someone’s style because you don’t have any previous exposure to it. Someone once said “You can’t worry about being too much like another comedian if you just go up there and be yourself. Always do what you find is funny.”
Aubrie: Nice, I was going to ask you the best advice anyone ever gave you next, and that seems to be pretty great advice.
Tommy: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. It was just like, do what you think is funny. Eventually it’ll be funny- you’ll work it to make it better. And you gravitate towards people who are like your style and like your humor, and that’s important to gain some confidence. You get easily kicked down but you’ve got to group up with some people that’ll support you. I’m mean, you’re still gonna beat yourself up. I’m still going to be puking in a toilet over those 3 jokes I shouldn’t have told tonight.
Aubrie: We are our own worst critics. But that is the good thing about Philly- it is such a supportive community.
Tommy: Yeah, they all pick you up.
Aubrie: And to end this interview: a note completely unrelated to comedy. Facebook tells me you just got a dog.
Tommy: I did, I just got a dog! I’ve had a couple growing up- I had a pug which isn’t a dog, it’s a toy with a heartbeat. But I loved it cause I wasn’t a human- I was like six. It worked out for both of us. Then my dad talked my mother into getting a real dog- half Lab, half Irish Setter, and she was wonderful. But the dog we got is a Vizsla- it’s a Hungarian hunting bird dog. It’s like a weimaraner, but it’s auburn. Or like a rhodesian ridgeback, but without the reversal of hair up the spine. You know, I’m not done- I have other dog associations that will bore the fuck out of you. He’s 8 weeks. Just got him. We got him from a breeder, so they take it seriously. She interviewed us- we had to pass a series of interviews. But you get a real dog. She asked if we were going to show him, and I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to show him.” To my neighbors, when I take him outside to use the bathroom.
You can find more info and videos from Tommy Pope online at Bird Text.com
Aubrie Williams is a member of improv group King Friday as well as sketch groups Mani Pedi and Local Holiday Miracle.